New York State to Deploy Undercover Testers to Look for Housing Discriminatory Practices in Westchester, NYC

Real Estate In-Depth | February 26, 2021

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the New York State Homes and Community Renewal is finalizing contracts with six nonprofit organizations to conduct fair housing testing in New York City, Long Island, Westchester County and the Central New York and Western New York regions.

ALBANY—New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Feb. 25 that the state will launch a program to deploy undercover fair housing testers in New York City, Long Island, Westchester County and the Central New York and Western New York regions to possibly uncover housing discrimination practices by sellers, brokers and landlords.

The state is currently finalizing contracts with six nonprofit organizations to conduct testing in New York City, Long Island, Westchester County and the Central New York and Western New York regions. Testers will act as potential renters and homebuyers, state officials said. The program will be administered by New York State Homes and Community Renewal.

The governor also announced that new regulations ( concerning real estate appraisers, to help combat housing discrimination will take effect on March 17, 2021. The new regulations will require licensed and certified appraisers to receive training on fair housing and fair lending as part of their continuing education requirements.

“Every New Yorker has the right to live in the community of their choice without fear of discriminatory treatment,” Gov. Cuomo said. “New York’s prohibition of discrimination in home rental and sale transactions isn’t just a suggestion—it’s the law—and any unscrupulous agents who break that law must be held accountable.”

He added, “These new actions build on our ongoing efforts to stop illegal housing practices by finding those bad actors who are subjecting potential renters and buyers to discrimination and putting them on notice, while also making sure real estate appraisers receive the proper training to make fair and unbiased decisions.”

The governor’s announcement builds on his ongoing efforts to advance the goals of the Fair Housing Act, which includes enacting the most aggressive tenant protections in New York’s history through the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019; banning source of income discrimination; and prohibiting housing providers in receipt of state funds from automatically denying applicants to housing based on negative credit or a history of justice involvement.

Last month, he announced the findings of a new report by the New York State Department of Financial Services on redlining in the Buffalo metropolitan area. Buffalo remains one of the most racially segregated cities in the United States decades after the practice of redlining and other forms of housing discrimination were banned by law. DFS’ report found a distinct lack of lending by mortgage lenders, particularly non-depository lenders, continues today in Buffalo neighborhoods with majority-minority populations and to minority homebuyers in general.

In his State of the State message in January, Governor Cuomo continued the fight against racial injustices in the housing market with a package of reforms designed to bridge the racial divide in homeownership and tear down barriers to wealth-building. The proposal expands the reach of HCR’s State of New York Mortgage Agency and gives teeth to the fight against redlining by allowing more community-based lenders to offer SONYMA loans in low-income communities, increasing down payment assistance for borrowers in underserved areas of the state to $7,500 from $3,000, and granting SONYMA flexibility to make mortgage modifications in times of crisis so borrowers can remain in their homes, he noted.

These reforms, along with expanding SONYMA’s Give Us Credit program, which examines traditional measures of credit history and credit worthiness to enable more borrowers to qualify for mortgages, will go a long way toward addressing housing discrimination.

New York State Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas said, “In New York, we will continue to build more inclusive communities by ensuring fair access to housing opportunities. The governor’s initiative to expose discriminatory housing practices will make it clear that housing providers must obey the law or be held accountable. With housing insecurity on the rise, we must do all we can to protect New Yorkers from housing discrimination and safeguard their ability to find a safe, stable and affordable place to call home.”

New York State Division of Human Rights Interim Commissioner Johnathan Smith said, “New York State will use every tool at its disposal to eliminate the scourge of housing discrimination. This vital new effort will ensure that bad actors amongst landlords, sellers, and brokers are rooted out and held accountable under the law.”

New York Secretary of State Rosanna Rosado said, “Housing discrimination is illegal, and here in New York State we are committed to ensuring every New Yorker has equal access to housing. To help combat the pervasive issue of discrimination, it is essential for our licensed professionals to be continuously educated on the history and laws around fair housing. This new paired testing program, coupled with these new regulations, will help weed out the bad actors and protect all New Yorkers from biased housing practices.”